Cornell Ag Quad Rehabilitation Construction Update, 9/2016

28 09 2016

Kinda outside the normal coverage, but an important project nevertheless. Cornell is currently undertaking a major rehabilitation of the CALS Quadrangle, better known as the “Ag Quad”. The $9.6 million “Ag Quad Utility Infrastructure Upgrades and Landscape Revitalization Project” (originally $7.8 million) began during the summer, and is scheduled for a completion before the 2017-18 academic year. Most of the construction is planned during the summer months of 2016 and 2017, when the ground is easier to work with and impact on campus activities is at a minimum.

According to university landscape architect David Cutter, the work has planned for at least a decade, but was a lower priority vs. other projects such as the Mann Library and Warren Hall renovations, which used the quad as a staging area. With the bulk of building renovations complete (a new academic building on the south side of the quad, but it’s just a hazy concept at this time), and with infrastructure approaching 100 years old, the university decided now was as good a time as any to get the rehab underway. Plans were approved by the Ithaca city Planning Board in February.

The first phase is what’s underway now. That involves the replacement of underground utilities infrastructure. In that catch-all are water pipes, sewer pipes, steam pipes, and a new ductbank (electrical conduit grouping) for telecommunications from the CIT Building. Several walkways have been excavated to make way for new or improved underground utilities corridors. The second phase is refreshed landscaping. Along with new permeable pavement walkways and entrance plazas in front of Roberts Hall and Mann Library come 54 new tree plantings, a rain garden, and upgraded lighting (from two poles to twenty). The plazas will come with movable tables and chairs, traditional benches and concrete slab benches (rough-hewn sides, cut/thermally-finished tops). For additional safety, the rehabbed quad will host collapsible bollards, an increased number of blue light security phones, and a new emergency vehicle path. Primary walkways will be 12′ wide, and secondary walkways 8′ wide. Some of the new garden spaces and landscaping will be done by students in various CALS programs.

The project has been the subject of relatively little controversy compared to most. Some consternation was expressed that four Cornellian cherry trees next to the west side of the Plant Science Building would be cut down for “infrastructure changes”, but other than that, there wasn’t much else in the way of concern or opposition. Eleven other trees are also or are being removed, so the net gain is 39.

The $9.6 million is coming mostly out of the university’s budget (CALS and Utilities), with some private funds. MKW & Associates LLC of New Jersey is the lead landscape architect, Over & Under Piping Contractors Inc. of Auburn is the GC, and Albany-based CHA Consulting Inc. is providing civil engineering expertise.

In the photos below, the new sanitary and steam pipes are being fed through a protective concrete threader, and new cobbled pavers being paid out in front of Mann. The rebar sticking out of the curved concrete in front of Mann is part of a bi-level concrete stairwall that will be capped with cut stone – my guess is the rebar is there to strengthen the concrete, and will be trimmed down once the concrete is fully cured and the project team is ready to move on to the next step. The metal tool on the left side of the last photo is a portable trench shield used for pipe installation.

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Upson Hall Construction Update, 7/2016

1 08 2016

There are two different facade installations going on here – the terracotta, and the aluminum. For the terracotta, the process goes like this. First, we have the gypsum sheathing, coated with a turquoise-colored water-resistive barrier. The ends of the aluminum clips are installed onto the sheathing, and then mineral wool insulation is attached between the clip. Then, the rest of the aluminum clip is attached over the mineral wool. From there, terracotta panels are hung up and secured to the clips. The aluminum window surrounds don’t need this type of work, so the panels are just hung as-is over the sheathing.

According to Cornell’s Upson Hall webpage, Phase I is nearing completion at this point. That means that floors 3, 4 and 5 are nearly finished inside and out, and work will shift towards the basement, the first and second floor. Some work has already been done in the basement with utility and infrastructure upgrades. It’s really quite a feat that the building is continues to be occupied while all the construction is going on, the work split between the top half and bottom half. Also, kudos to the faculty, staff and students who have to put up with the noise and multiple moves while the work takes place. The fully-renovated Upson Hall should be ready by next August.

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Cornell Veterinary School Expansion Construction Update, 7/2016

31 07 2016

Over at the Cornell Vet School, one of the biggest changes since the last update in May has been the removal of the old glass curtain wall on the ca. 1974 Vet Research Tower. The insides have been temporarily walled off just inside the support columns. The support system for the glass wall has to be modified in order to support the replacement glass curtain wall, which should be fully installed by the fall. A small section of the new curtain wall, with a much lighter tint and trim and more transparent than the first, can be seen in photos two and three.

Most of the building demolitions should be finishing up at this point, which will allow construction of the new dean’s wing and library (reinforced concrete structure below) to extend back and connect with the rest of the vet school complex. The Poultry Virus Lab on the corner of Campus Road and Caldwell Road is the last major demolition planned, and will come down later this year to allow a new Community Practice Service building to take its place. Technically, that $7 million project is considered to be separate from the vet school expansion.
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Gannett Health Center Construction Update, 7/2016

30 07 2016

Work on the Gannett Health Center is at the transition point between the first and second phases. With the new wing largely finished, occupants have been migrating into the new digs, while the interiors of the original 1957 wing and later 1979 addition are being prepped for a gut renovation. There’s still some bluestone and limestone cladding yet to go on the new wing’s stairwells, but the interior’s complete enough that a certificate of occupancy could be issued. I’ve received a couple messages from folks who are less than happy that the temporary main entrance in next to the ambulance bay, and that the interior’s lack of finish at moving was less than comforting to clients, but both of those problems will (hopefully) be rectified as the second phase moves towards an August 2017 completion. The whole facility will be known collectively as “Cornell Health“.

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Cayuga Meadows Construction Update, 7/2016

18 07 2016

Safe to say this is under construction. Work has commenced on Conifer LLC’s Cayuga Meadows affordable senior housing project on West Hill.

Cayuga Meadows is a 3-story, 58,500 SF apartment building with 68 units, 59 1-bedroom and 9 2-bedroom. The units will be available to individuals aged 55 and older, with incomes 60% or less or the Area Median Income (AMI). AMI in Tompkins County is about $53,000 per household, so a qualifying senior household would have an annual income of $31,800 or less. 7 units will be accessible to mobility-impaired individuals, and 3 units will be designed to accommodate hearing or visually-impaired occupants. Included in the plans are two covered patios, a community garden, and stormwater, lighting and landscaping improvements. 67 parking spaces will be paved behind the building.

The history of Cayuga Meadows goes back a few years, and has its share of twists. Originally, the project had been conceived as “Conifer West Hill” in 2009 as a component to a Cornell-led mixed-use development on about 36 acres of land across from Cayuga Medical Center. Rochester-based Conifer’s part in the plan has always been the same – affordable housing for seniors. But Cornell had other plans for the rest of the acreage.

In Spring 2010, there were three different site plans being floated – the consistent components were Conifer’s project, a 68-bed assisted living facility called “Terrace at Ithaca”, medical office space, small-scale retail, 106 park-and-ride spaces, and 4,000 SF for a farmer’s market. Depending on the plan, there were townhomes, a hotel school conference center, or other institutional space for Cornell. Mixed-use, definitely, but the plans weren’t that walkable, traditional neighborhood feel that the town is looking for these days – in fact, they were fairly conventional suburban sprawl. Cornell’s approach to planning was different in the late 2000s. By good fortune, Ithaca Builds locally hosted a copy of those site plans here.

For a combination of reasons (financial feasibility, changing priorities), Cornell ended up shelving its plans. However, it would be incorrect to say the university isn’t still interested in the site – they recently bought the house at 1250 Trumansburg Road, whose property had been awkwardly carved out of the rest of the site in a subdivision long ago. In the 2010 plans, Cornell had to plan around the house, not to mention worry about the occupants complaining about Cornell’s plans. So when it came on the market and sat for a couple months, the Big Red decided to pick it up in June for $157,000, probably on the belief that it could pay off through easier site planning and development down the line.

While Cornell filed away their plans, Conifer continued with theirs since the university was still willing to give them land as long as they built affordable housing. Originally, it was conceived as 72 units when it first received preliminary approval in April 2012, but was trimmed to 68 when final approval was granted in November 2013, in order to make the project a little less expensive, and provide a little more space to the community garden. Between preliminary and final approval, Conifer also had to apply for rezoning (Medium-Density Residential to Multiple Residence in May 2012), zoning variances (June 2012, for height and building setbacks), and public works approval for utilities services to be installed.

Then came another few years’ wait while financing was being secured. As covered on the Voice, affordable housing grants are very competitive, so it often takes multiple rounds of applications before a project is finally given grant money. In Conifer’s case, the last piece of the puzzle, tax-exempt bonds, didn’t come through until late January 2016. Cayuga Meadows is a $14.9 million project – about $8.3 million comes from NYS Housing Finance Agency bonds, and another $6.3 million from Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds. First Niagara Bank provided the Letter of Credit for the bonds. The project will pay taxes.

With the funding in hand, Cornell and Conifer formally agreed to a subdivision of Cornell’s land – 4.9 acres for the senior housing, and another acre for the Right-Of-Way for the new road. Cornell and Conifer had to agree on a few choices for new road names, which they submitted to Ithaca’s Codes Enforcement Director (Bruce Bates), who checks with the county to make sure there are no issues with the choices, and then the three parties agree on a final selection. Cayuga Meadows’ address will be “108 Aster Lane”.

There’s yet to be a color render hosted online, but the exterior will use fiber cement siding – Certainteed “Savannah Wicker” Dutch Lap Siding and “Cypress Spruce” cedar-like shingle siding. For the sake of examples, the Belle Sherman Cottages and Stone Quarry Apartments have also used Savannah Wicker fiber cement. The roof will be Timberline “Weathered Wood” shingles.

At the project site right now, work is underway on the foundation. The building’s footprint has been cleared, the foundation is excavated, and footers are poured for where the concrete will transfer the weight into the ground. Wooden forms are built along the perimeter for the stem walls, rebar is laid for reinforcement of the concrete, and the concrete is poured and left to harden (cured). Once the concrete has had a chance to harden, the forms are lifted off and work moves onto the next section. The building will be a slab-on-grade foundation, so no worries about excavating a basement here.

As a side note, it seems fitting that the residents with east-facing windows will have some pretty fantastic views of Cornell.

Through a joint venture with Conifer, LeChase Construction of Rochester will be serving as general contractor. The excavating has been subcontracted out to Neally-DeJong Excavating of Corning, and concrete work to Architectural Concrete Plus of Dundee (Yates County, northwest of Watkins Glen). Thanks to “Drill Deep” for the clarification.

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News Tidbits 7/2/16: Not the (City Centre) of Attention

2 07 2016

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1. Let’s start this off with the big news of the week – the proposal for 201 College Avenue was approved by the Planning Board. The debate was spirited, to put it most politely; catty, to use the official write-up in the Voice; and in the follow-up phone call I had with my editor, who attended the meeting with a Voice summer intern, she described it by saying “both sides were pretty awful”. I am sympathetic to Neil’s predicament, although I think it’s also a fairly unique case; I hope some sort of arrangement with the solar panels is worked out.

The observations regarding age and view of the project is actually pretty similar to a conversation the Journal’s Nick Reynolds and I had on Twitter about the City Centre project – older Ithacans often have starkly different views on density and urban development than younger residents, who tend to be more pro-density and pro-urban infill/growth. The young aren’t naive and more so than the old are obsolete; but they are products of different times. Today’s older Ithacans are the same ones who were frowned upon by the old Ithacans of their youth (the Silent Generation and the Greatest Generation), who were much more politically conservative and made up the large majority of the city’s Republicans from when Ithaca was once a contested city, and the Boomers were moving in and tilting it leftward. A sociologist could probably make a good research paper studying Ithaca’s generational views of urban environments.

Anyway, construction on this project is supposed to start in short order; funding has already been secured, and Binghamton-based W. H. Lane Inc. will be the general contractor for the $6 million project.

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2. Meanwhile, City Centre’s sketch plan was also reviewed at the Planning Board meeting. The initial reaction seems muted, gauging from Nick Reynolds’ Twitter and the lack of comment from my Voice colleagues.

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According to the sketch plan submission, the vast majority of units (240 of the 255) will be studios (120)¬†ranging from 457-563 SF, and one-bedrooms (120) ranging from 580-754 SF. The other 15 will be two-bedroom units, eight 914 SF units and seven 1,370 SF units. All units are market-rate, with target demographics including young professionals and downsizing empty nesters. Students are allowed, though the units won’t be marketed to them. Ground floor retail will be 10,700 SF at the corner of State and Aurora. 7,220 SF fronting State Street will be “Leasing/Club Space” for building and tenant functions. The 71-space parking garage will be accessed via East Green Street, car share membership will be included in the rent, and there will be indoor bike racks.

With the mild initial reaction noted, we’ll see how the project details shape up as the summer progresses, and the board potentially launches formal project review (Declaration of Lead Agency) as soon as late July.


3. Hitting the market this week is a potential opportunity for the deep-pocketed investor/developer. The property is 2248 North Triphammer Road in the village of Lansing. The sale consists of two parcels totaling 3.42 acres – a 1.53 acre parcel with a 2,728 SF M&T Bank branch built in 1992 and holding a long-term triple-net (NNN) lease; the other, an undeveloped 1.89 acre parcel to the rear that the listing notes could be developed out into 13 housing units. The price for the pair is $2,125,000.

A triple-net lease means the tenant pays everything – insurance, maintenance and real estate taxes (formally, net insurance, net maitenance and net real estate taxes on the leased asset – the three nets).¬† Because of this, the rent is substantially lower than it otherwise might be. There are certain cases where a landowner might want to do triple-net – like when they’re a tax-exempt entity leasing out to a for-profit company. A quick check of the records shows the properties are owned by Cornell, and were acquired in 1953 and 1960. What the property has been to Cornell is a fairly safe investment (though with a lot of fine print to determine who pays for things like if a tornado hits or the foundation cracks), generating a modest amount of rent and functioning like an inflation-protected bond, but guaranteed by the lessee rather than the government. All the better when the tenant is stable and signed on for the long-term, as is the case here.

The county has the bank parcel assessed at $635,000, the undeveloped parcel at $140,000.¬† Lansing village zoning has Commercial High Traffic for the bank property, and High Density Residential for the vacant parcel. HDR zoning requires 6,000 SF of land per dwelling unit in a 35′ tall multi-unit building, and 1.89 acres = 82,215 SF, so that’s where the 13 units comes from. For comparison’s sake, single family is 12,000 SF, and duplexes 15,000 SF (or, doing the math, one could in theory carve out six home lots, or 5 duplex lots for 10 units, though with lot setbacks, the property’s triangular shape probably lowers those figures).

4. On the other end of the sales process, the former Maine’s supermarket has been sold. The six year-old, 26,146 SF building at 100 Commercial Avenue in the city of Ithaca was purchased for $4,150,000 on Thursday the 30th, by Illinois-based Agracel Inc., well above its $3.1 million assessment. Agracel is an industrial space and warehouse developer, fitting for a property once described as a “food and party warehouse”. The former Maine’s appears to be a little on the small side compared to the rest of their portfolio, but there is the possibility of expansion, or even a teardown and rebuild if they really felt the need.

Readers may recall that Maine’s closed its Ithaca store in February, which along with a closing in suburban Rochester reduced its stores from six to four.

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5. Work on the new Storage Squad facility has begun on the 1400 Block of Dryden Road east of Varna. Right now, the focus is on site clearing; the house was used by local fire departments for training exercises, and will come down in a controlled burn later this summer. The 79,000 SF storage facility should be ready for use by February 2017. One full time and a few part-time jobs will be created.

And for the record, I think that’s my middle finger.

6. So this is curious. The city recently uploaded a couple of older documents detailing development plans off of Floral Avenue on the southern tip of Ithaca’s West Hill neighborhood.

The first dates from Febraury 1992, and is a filing to create a 27-lot cluster subdivision on 4.15 acres at 452 Floral Avenue. The paperwork indicates that the intent was affordable housing, by a company named House Craft Builders. The city’s then-Planning Director, H. Matthys Van Cort, wrote a recommendation for negative declaration of environmental significance, and the project was approved in June 1992, but it never moved forward, and 452 remains vacant land today. It appears House Craft was dissolved in 2012; the officer was an architect for Ecovillage who has since retired and moved out of state.

The second is a subdivision requested by INHS in 1987. The filing requested 236 Floral Road be split into two parcels, with the intent of renovating a decrepit 236 into a for-sale affordable single-family home, and build a new house on 224. This was approved, and eventually, 236 was renovated and transferred to its owner in 1996, and 224 was built in 1994.

Now, as interesting as this all is, the city doesn’t upload decades-old subdivision files just to amuse nerds. The $64,000 question is, why were they uploaded now?





News tidbits 6/26/16: The Odd Time Out

26 06 2016

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1. In what was ostensibly the biggest news of the week, Newman Development Group (NDG) of Vestal announced plans for the Trebloc site in downtown Ithaca. “City Centre” includes nine floors total, with roughly 250 apartments from studios to 2-bedrooms, about 10,000 SF (square feet) of retail space, 3,200 SF of amenities like a business center, and an underground garage of 70 spaces (the site is zoned CBD-120, which has no parking requirement). Readers might recall that Texas-based student housing developer Campus Advantage had proposed the State Street Triangle project, but their purchase option was not renewed by the owner of Trebloc.

Looking at their portfolio, Ithaca is NDG’s odd market out – most of their projects involve suburban retail centers and chain hotels, with shopping plazas from coast to coast. A smaller division, NDG Student Living, focuses on acquiring and building student housing, with their most recent projects in Binghamton and Oneonta. Ithaca seems to be the only metro where they’ve built general housing; earlier this decade, they worked with local businessman Bryan Warren on the Seneca Way mixed-use project on the east end of downtown.

The gut reaction to Newman as a developer is that, although they’re not very accustomed to urban mixed-use, there is one market where they do know what they’re doing, and that would be Ithaca’s.

Let’s just start right off the bat with one big difference between NDG and CA – the way the news was broken. CA was caught off-guard when the Journal’s David Hill broke the news of a 120-foot building a few days before the Planning Board meeting. NDG, working with local consultant Scott Whitham, emailed the same press release to each of the three major news organizations in Ithaca, which gave them the upper hand on the way information was delivered. The Times ran their copy first with almost no additional details, the Voice came a little later in the afternoon with more details such as unit total and retail space, and the Journal’s version came in the evening with even more details, such as the 70-space underground garage, and plans for the project to pursue CIITAP, the city’s property tax abatement program.

We’ll see what happens next week. The garage, not removing the turn lane, the general housing focus as opposed to students, and an initial design by Humphreys and Partners Architects that doesn’t repulse people are all cards that NDG holds that CA didn’t. But, there will still be sizable opposition. Playing your cards correctly is just as important to a winning hand as having them.

2. It looks like Gimme! Coffee is percolating something new out in Trumansburg. Through an LLC, the local coffee chain picked up 25-27 West Main Street for $350,000 on the 20th. The building is the former Independent Order of Odd Fellows Temple, a fraternal organization which established a chapter in Trumansburg in 1839, with ties to an older fraternal organization going further back to 1818. The 19th century temple is now about 1,700 SF of retail space, and 3 apartments totaling 3,300 SF on the upper floors; recent tenants have included Life’s So Sweet Chocolates and a barber shop.

Ithaca also had a location, first in downtown, and then on West Hill from the late 1920s. The older location was demolished to build the county library in the 1960s, while the West Hill location is a mix of uses today, one of which is the Museum of the Earth.

Gimme! has had a 1,200 SF shop at nearby 7 East Main Street since 2002, but they rent the space from Interlaken businessman Ben Guthrie. Logical guess here would be, they like Trumansburg, they wanted to buy a space and stay near where they are now, this opportunity came up down the street and they went for it. The sale price on 25-27 W Main is a substantial climb from the $288,000 it sold for in June 2010; I guess they call Trumansburg “little Ithaca” for a reason.

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3. So, documents filed with the 201 College project this week were quite intriguing. First off, no action was taken at the zoning board meeting, but the developer of 201 College modified the project so that it no longer needs the setback variance or the entryways design variance. The planters were shrunk down in order to keep the sidewalk 12′ wide as requested by the Planning Board. Some additional 3-D drawings were also sent along, and site elevations and utilities plan here.

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One of the images sent along was a “future context” file of potential nearby projects in the next couple of years. This document likely stems from the Planning Board debate of just what is likely to get developed in the vicinity over the next 5 years or so. There are four massings, merely following what zoning allows.

302-306 College Avenue – “Avenue 302”, by the Avramis family. Two buildings, one of six floors, one four, possibly in the 2017-2019 timeframe. Nothing formal has been discussed since the 2014 sketch plan, but the houses currently there are leased through May 2017.

215 College Avenue – A Novarr project. All that is publicly known at this stage is that Novarr wants to start construction in Summer 2017. Zoning allows 5 floors.

202 College Avenue – 202, 204, 206 and 210 College Avenue are all Novarr properties (there is no 208), as is the adjacent 118 Cook Street, which is not included in the massing outline. The College Avenue parcels allow 5 floors, 118 Cook 4. There hasn’t been any news with these properties lately.

119-125 College Avenue – three houses (there is no 123) owned by an Endicott-based landlord. I had to put out some inquiries on these houses, and there may be a sale in the works, although nothing’s on file with the county yet. These are CR-4, allowing 4 floors, but they could be tough to redevelop because these houses are seen as potentially historic resources.

Anyway, a vote on the project’s approvals is set for Tuesday. Neil Golder has created a group called “Save the Soul of Collegetown” to stage a rally in front of city hall that evening and try and halt the plans, but the last I checked on Facebook, three of the five people going were reporters.

 

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4. Going more into briefs now, the Amici House funding plan for building a housing facility for 23 at-risk youth, and a second structure for five head-start classrooms and 42 students, was approved by the county this week. Once the sale is finalized, expect the official plans to be presented to city officials not long thereafter. Once those are approved, additional grant applications can be filed and hopefully, construction will be completed no later than 2018. According to the county’s press release, the Amici plan will create about 25 living wage jobs.

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5. Starting on the 27th, Gannett Health Services will begin to transition over to the new addition, while work begins on renovating the older wings of Cornell’s healthcare facility. This marks the rough completion of phase one, and the halfway point for the $55 million project. The Gannett webpage says the whole facility will be known as “Cornell Health” upon completion.

6. Back in November, Ithaca’s second ward saw a competitive election between candidates Ducson Nguyen and Sean Gannon. One of the big differences between the two was on development – Nguyen advocated for urban development in downtown, and Gannon thought there was too much building going on and it needed to be slowed down. Nguyen won by a hefty margin on election night.

A building loan agreement was inked next week to build a new duplex (two-unit semi-detached house) behind an existing property at 512-514 West Green Street. $330,000, Ithaca’s Carina Construction will be the contractor (expect a Simplex modular duplex). The property is bisected by zoning, with the rear falling into the State Street development corridor, so no parking is required for the new rear duplex. At a glance, it looks like a winning plan – it will be modest-sized, it’s in a walkable area, and it supplies much-needed housing. The Ciaschi family is developing the units.

The property also happens to be next door to Mr. Gannon. I’m sure he will be all kinds of amused.